An Analysis of the Labor Unions in the United States

An Analysis of the Labor Unions in the United States
While in the United States the number of labor force unionized currently covers only 12.4 % (in the public sector trade unions reached 36.8 % of firms in the private sector, about 7.6 %), however, the impact of unions on pay policies are quite markedly. The main reason for the interest of employees in the membership of a trade union is satisfaction with their salaries. In addition to the desire to establish trade unions in companies affected by the low level of social benefits and total disregard for the interests of the employer's employees to the management of the organization. At the same time, employers in every way try not to encourage their organizations to form trade unions, on the one hand through the implementation of flexible working with staff and create a favorable social and labor climate, on the other side, through the demonstration of the firm's position in relation to trade union demands. In those organizations where unions exist, they actively influence the general level of wages and benefits, the structure of payments, as well as indirectly influence policy on the remuneration of related or competing organizations. As a fact, today most labor unions in the United States are members of the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) or the Change to Win Federation, which split from the AFL-CIO four years ago. To join a labor union employees can do it voluntarily

The effectiveness of trade union power in the general level of wages and benefits can be estimated from the information the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2002. For example, in 2002, the average weekly wage of workers, union members stood at 740 compared with $ 587 dollars from workers who were not union members, for example, the difference was equal to 26%. However, this difference is more significant in industries with traditionally strong influence of trade unions (for example in the construction of a difference of 31.6%) than in areas with milder influence of trade unions (for example, in the service sector, this difference is only 13.3%).

However, the extent of the gap size of wage workers, married and non-union, varies significantly from year to year. In periods of high unemployment in the country increases the impact of trade unions, in terms of economic growth in the wage gap between organizations with and without trade unions, decreases. This phenomenon is explained by the fact that during the recession unions actively resist the downward pressure on wages, and during the recovery process of increasing the level of wages there is the encountering the need to adhere to multi-year collective bargaining agreements, certain procedures.

The wage structure in the U.S. includes in addition to base salary for social benefits and lump-sum bonuses. Wages of workers - union members includes, for example, up to 30% of social benefits, most important of which are pension and medical insurance. That is, although the overall level of salaries of employees of organizations where there are labor unions and higher, but the level of the base salary component may be equal, and in some cases even lower than in organizations that do not have a union. The presence of trade union organization affects the ratio of the wage levels executives and employees. Thus, the gap between the level of salaries and incomes of managers in organizations with a union in an average is 20% less than in organizations that are not unionized. Also trade unions are indirectly affected and the wage level of employees of competing organizations, not affiliated trade union movement, as stated in The Law of the Workplace: Rights of Employers and Employees. Quite often, employers, seeking to avoid a union in their organizations offer their employees the same wages as a rival or a related organization, where there is a union.

As the formation of capitalist society has occurred, there also appeared new basic socio-economic classes - entrepreneurs (capitalists) and employees. Relations between workers and employers initially gave rise to conflicts. The fact that in the era of early capitalism, one of the main methods of increasing the income of entrepreneurs was a tightening of requirements for employees: the extension of working hours, reduced standards of remuneration, fines, savings on labor protection, termination of employment. The worsening relations between employees and employers often led to spontaneous performances - workers left the company and refused again to start work until their demands were not met at least partially. But these tactics could succeed only if protests were not separately dissatisfied. Formation and development of the trade union movement in different countries took place in the whole of the English model, but with a delay and at different rates. For example, in the U.S. first national labor union, the Knights of Labor, emerged in 1869, but by the end of 19 century. It fell into decay, and the largest national labor organization was founded in 1881 by the American Federation of Labor, AFL. In 1955 it merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations, CIO, since this leading trade union organization called the U.S. AFL-CIO. Resistance Business unions have been in this country very long. For example, in 1920-1930- ies National Association of Manufacturers has insisted on the introduction of contracts "yellow- dog", the terms of which were that workers should not have to join unions. To weaken the cohesion of a united trade union movement of workers, U.S. employers send them more concessions - for example, they have used participation in the profits of the enterprise. Intolerance towards trade unions in the U.S. replaced their recognition only after the "new course" of Franklin D. Roosevelt: adopted in 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) requires employers to compulsory collective bargaining with the union representing most workers.

If the British and U.S. unions tend to put forward a purely economic demands and stressed distanced themselves from the radical (revolutionary) political parties, in other developed countries, the trade union movement of the end 19 - early 20 centuries proved to be more politicized and revolutionary. In some countries (France, Italy, Spain), trade unions came under the strong influence of anarcho-syndicalists, in others (Germany, Austria, Sweden) - under the influence of the Social Democrats. Commitment to "continental" ideas of the Left trade unions delayed the process of legalization. In France the right to organize labor unions was officially recognized only in 1930. In Germany, Hitler's regime destroyed the trade unions, and was restored only after the Second World War. In the second half of the 20 century revolutionary period in the development of trade unions finally ended, and won the ideology of social partnership. Unions refused to violations of the social world in exchange for recognition of trade union rights and state social guarantees.

"Pacification" of relations between trade unions and employers has found their most vivid expression in the Japanese trade union movement. Since Japan's desktop is very important accessory to the company, not the occupations, then the unions are being built in this country not by profession, but by firms. This means that the combined in "firm" trade union of workers of different professions in solidarity with the managers rather of the firm than with professional colleagues from other firms. Sami unionists are paid from the management company. As a consequence, the Japanese companies and the relationship between unions and managers are much friendlier than in firms of European type. However, along with "good mixer" in Japan there is European- style industrial trade unions, but the smaller ones.

In the second half of the 20 century, as there was the deployment of industrialization in developing countries of Asia and Africa, the trade union movement started to develop at the periphery of the world economy. However, even these days the number of trade unions in “Third World countries” is typically few and they are less influential. The rise of trade unions is observed mainly in the newly industrializing countries (South Korea, Brazil).

The origins of trade unions are associated with the asymmetry of the real rights of individual workers or entrepreneurs. If the worker rejects the proposed entrepreneur conditions, he risks being dismissed and become unemployed. If the employer refuses to workers' demands, he can fire him and hire a new person, almost nothing is lost. In order to achieve some alignment of real rights, a worker must be able in a crisis situation to enlist the support of colleagues at work. For the businessman it is not necessary to respond to individual speeches and protests by workers. But when the workers unite and face the mass production of simple, then the employer is obliged not only to listen to workers' demands, but somehow they react. Thus, the union gave to the workers the power which they were deprived, acting alone, as described in International Journal of Comparative Sociology. Therefore, one of the main requirements of trade unions was the transition from individual to collective bargaining agreements with the union, employer, acting on behalf of all its members.

Over time, the functions of trade unions were somewhat modified. Nowadays, trade unions have an impact not only on employers, but also on the financial and legislative policies of the government. Modern scholars are dealing with the trade unions; they have identified two main functions - protective (relationship “union - the entrepreneurs”) and representation (relationships between the “unions - the state”). Some economists added to these two the third function, economic - concern about the efficiency of production. The protective function is the most traditional; it is directly linked to social and labor rights of workers. It is not just about preventing violations of the entrepreneurs' labor rights of workers, but also the restoration of a violation of rights. The magnitude position of workers and the employer, the union protects the employee against arbitrary action employer. It should be noted that in the fight for the interests of its member unions are often indifferent to the interests of other employees who are not members of trade unions. Thus, the U.S. trade unions are actively fighting to limit migration, because foreign workers "interrupted" work with Native Americans. Another method practiced by unions restricts the supply of labor - it demands strict licensing of many activities. As a result, unions provide their members higher wages than non-union (in the U.S. - by 20-30%), but this gain, as some economists have largely achieved due to the deterioration of wages of non-union.

In recent decades, understanding of the protective function of trade unions has changed somewhat. Earlier the main task of the trade unions consider raising wages and working conditions, but today their main practical problem is to avoid increasing unemployment and increase employment, as stated in The Washington Post. This means a shift of priorities from the protection already working to protect the interests of all employees. As the technological revolution of unions seek to influence not only on wages and employment, as it was originally, but also on the working conditions associated with the operation of new equipment. Thus, at the initiative of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation in 1990 around the world there have been implemented and based on the requirements of ergonomics the standards for computer equipment, which are tightly regulated by the level of electromagnetic radiation and noise, quality of the image on the monitor. Function of representation is associated with the defense of workers' interests are not at the firm level, and in government and public bodies. The purpose of representation is to create additional (compared with pre-existing) benefits and services (social services, social security, complementary health insurance, etc.). Trade unions may represent workers' interests by participating in elections, government bodies and local authorities, speaking proposals for the adoption of laws on social and labor sphere, participating in the formulation of public policies and government programs to promote employment, taking part in the development of state programs safety etc. Engaging in political struggle, trade unions are actively involved in lobbying - to protect especially those solutions that increase the demand for manufactured goods and workers, thus, the demand for labor. Thus, American trade unions have always been actively advocated with the protectionist measures - restrictions on importation of foreign goods in the U.S. To implement the representation of the trade unions is that they have close ties with political parties. In most countries, however, the trade union movement is divided into association with different political orientations. For example, in Germany, along with oriented to cooperation with the Social Democrats, there is the Association of German Trade Unions (9 million people). It was observed in the past 40 years that the reducing number of trade unions in the U.S. due, particularly because of new technology development and transfer of production abroad, there has been reduced substantially the number of workers employed in the industry. Industrial workers have traditionally formed the majority of American unions. Moreover, in the recent decades, the workforce was supplemented by a large number of women and adolescents who do not show solidarity with the demands of trade unions and agree to work on terms dictated by employers.

With increased competition nowadays, trade unions have come to realize that the welfare of workers depends not only on the confrontation with the employers, but also on the growth of labor efficiency. Therefore, modern trade unions are almost never resorted to strikes; they are actively involved in improving the training of its members and to improve the production itself. Studies by American economists argue that in most industries union members demonstrate better performance (approximately 20-30%). Social and economic efficiency - is generally classical unity and struggle of opposites: one implies, however, contradicts the other. It is important to find a balance.


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Peter Whoriskey (2009). American Union Ranks Grow After 'Bottoming Out'. The Washington Post. Retrieved 20 August 2010, from
Sano, Joelle and John B. Williamson. (2008) “Factors Affecting Union Decline and their Implications for Labor Reform.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology. 49: 479-500.
Scruggs, L. and Lange, P. (2002) ‘Where Have all the Members Gone? Globalizations, Institutions, and Union Density’, The Journal of Politics,64(1): 126–53.
United States Department of Labor (2010). Economic News Release. Retrieved 20 August 2010, from

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